Durkan’s First 100 Days: So Far, Not So Good

Jenny Durkan’s administration began November 28 of last year. How should the building community evaluate her first 100 days? A week or so after the mayor took office, I wrote up some ways we could evaluate the new mayor. Now more than two-thirds of the way through the first hundred days, we have some answers. It is still early in the administration. Some of the not so great response might be because lots is still being sorted out. My job isn’t 

Overall, the Mayor hasn’t been responsive to requests to engage around issues related to permitting and the many snafus that have hung up housing production. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the message has been clear that she doesn’t like criticism and people close to her have implied that such criticism means less access. So let’s take a look at the new mayor. 


Durkan’s first official transition team had 61 people on it including one market-rate developer—Vulcan—and seven nonprofit developers. Thinking Vulcan adequately represents all builders is like having Mexican restaurants represented by Taco Bell. Most builders run small, family operated businesses. Watch to see whether Durkan continues this trend or starts to listen to real Seattle housing builders.

While I am hopeful for change at and from the top, we must also persist in making our case, no matter how uncomfortable and exhausting it may be at times.

Update: After 70 days we haven’t seen any effort to bring builders and people who operate housing together. Instead, as I mentioned, I’ve heard very strong messages criticism won’t be tolerated. And efforts seem underway to pull apart builders by communicating with a few that have promised to cooperate with Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning. Is it a divide and conquer strategy?  


In a previous post, I suggested the creation of a new Seattle program called HELP—Housing Efficiency Leveraged for Production. The goal: task a high-level person with speeding up the permitting process, which today is slow, expensive, and unpredictable.

Update: After several attempts to communicate with the transition team and staff in her office, we’ve not received a single phone call or message back after making multiple requests to implement the kind of effort I’ve described. 


Does Durkan talk and act like we need more affordable housing or like we need more housing so that it becomes affordable? The mayor sets the tone and the agenda for the housing economy. If the priority is subsidized housing, prices will never go down and demand for subsidies will keep climbing.

Update: While I haven’t listened to every speech or comment in the press, I don’t see anything changing in a big way in terms of the way this administration talks about housing. The mayor’s office, for example, took no position and made no comment I heard on rent control an issue debated heatedly in January.


Will Durkan consider the high cost of subsidized housing and do something about it?

Will she take action to reduce costs and uncertainty in the housing market for all housing producers, including market-rate builders?

Update: In a chance meeting with a powerful legislator in Olympia, he told me, “A lot of people are mad at you for criticizing non-profit housing developers.” At this point, I doubt that the mayor would want to take on non-profit developers, the most politically powerful interest group in the city. So far, there is no evidence the mayor worries about the high costs of “affordable” housing.


It’s unlikely, but Durkan could pause the runaway MIZ process. This is a policy that would give a small increment of extra square footage but require low-income units or the payment of huge fees. This is a recipe for making housing projects infeasible and more expensive to compensate for fees or inclusion, and we also think the program violates Washington state law.

Update: Again, I’ve been put on notice that my advocacy is making powerful people upset. I can’t imagine the mayor putting a pause on MIZ. The whole town, except for some angry neighbors and Seattle For Growth, is all on board with the MIZ scheme.


The origin of most of Seattle’s housing problems is the City Council. The Council has passed clearly illegal ordinances trying to tax income (taxing authority can only be granted by the state Legislature) and others requiring full design review for projects based on the number of units on a neighboring site. Will the mayor say “no” to the councilmembers who keep flouting the law?

Update: We’ll see what happens when the Council inevitably proposes illegal measures to put prices controls on housing. I hope I am surprised, but I’d expect her to go along with whatever they come up with. Why take the side of unpopular landlords – even if the measure eventually gets thrown out.

While I am hopeful for change at and from the top, we must also persist in making our case, no matter how uncomfortable and exhausting it may be at times.

In the end, many of our issues may be settled in court. But until then, we’ll continue to urge the mayor to favor more housing in Seattle of all types, in all neighborhoods, and for all levels of income even if it makes the mayor and powerful forces mad.

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